Expert views shared with eMetro since the outbreak of coronavirus disease in the Peoples Republic of China suggest that the threat to Nigeria is real and that the virus may filter in through any of four major corridors if the authorities are not committed and alert. The corridors of potential entry include smuggling, retail trading, Chinese New Year festivities, and cross-border travelling.
Experts have warned that Nigeria cannot afford to fight two deadly virus outbreaks at once, as 11 states are already battling to contain Lassa fever virus that has led to 29 deaths and infected hundreds more.
Here are the ways that the disease can enter and the responsible authorities for their prevention.
Federal authorities yesterday shut down a shopping mall in Abuja, the nation’s capital city, where illegally imported products from China were being displayed at the shelves. Officials of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), acting on a tip off that Chinese nationals running a supermarket have a reserved area for Chinese shoppers, not only discovered the reserved food store but discovered the concealed area was stocked with “seafood and animals imported illegally from China.”
It promptly shut down the store for what it describes as “abundance of caution considering Coronavirus.” Although the agency’s officials have been heavily criticized in the social media for not wearing protective gear to the store, the discovery of smuggled seafood and animals – the major source of contracting the disease – underscores one corridor through which coronavirus could easily be smuggled into Nigeria. The Nigerian Customs (@CustomsNG) as well as the Immigration Services (@nigimmigration) have the responsibility for ensuring that smuggled goods do not enter into the market. If they manage to be smuggled in, it behooves on two other agencies to sniff them out – the Standard Organization of Nigeria (@sonnigeria), and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (@Nafdacagency). So far, the two agencies have not posted anything on their Twitter handles to indicate an interest in monitoring the threat.
Three years ago, Nigeria-China trade relations peaked at $12.3bn within 11 months, Chinese Deputy Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Lin Jing, revealed last weekend. This represented a 30 percent increase compared to the same figure in 2016 – which makes Nigeria “the biggest Chinese investment destination in Africa, the second largest export market and the third largest trading partner of China in Africa,” he said.
Retail trading is a strong part of this relationship, with a constant stream of business visa seekers thronging the embassy each day to visit commercial cities in China, including Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic.
Perhaps in realization of this threat, the Anambra State government has become the first state in Nigeria to take proactive steps on the threat. in warning its citizens to take necessary precautions regarding the disease. Yesterday, the State Commissioner for Information, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, released a government advisory to citizens of Anambra based on awareness of the state’s reputation “as easily the most travelled Nigerians, if not Africans.”
“We advise all Ndi Anambra not to travel to the city of Wuhan, China, for now, despite its allure as an industrial and transportation hub,” Adinuba said.
The Obiano government further advises entrepreneurs or leisure travelers who have been to Wuhan in central China in the past three weeks to quickly make use of installed remedial measures by reporting to the Ministry of Health, Awka, where “screening facilities are available free-of-charge for all who feel somewhat endangered by the new highly contagious disease.”
Cross Border Travelers
The Anambra advisory noted that Coronavirus has been confirmed to have spread to not only in 16 countries in Asia, North America and Asia, but may also “have reached Cote d’Ivoire,” a West African state. Nigeria may have shut its land borders with neighboring West African countries, but she has not closed her air spaces as well. In addition, road travelers are still able to cross our borders to countries on the West Coast because it is assumed that only goods are affected in the shutdown. This is where cross border infestation will always present a real threat to Nigeria, which is the political and commercial hub of West Africa as well as the Centre of Excellence in medicine for the region.
There is a precedence for this fear of cross-border infestation from the 2014 Ebola index case that was recorded in Nigeria from an infected Liberian-American, Patrick Oliver Sawyer. In the wake of the epidemic in West Africa, Sawyer flew into Lagos from Monrovia in a desperate search for a cure when he discovered that he had contracted the virus. His desperate moves from Lagos to Port Harcourt, where he eventually died, led to a spate of deaths of citizens and medical personnel in Lagos and eastern states, before Nigeria marvelously installed a preventive process that nipped further spread in the bud, a feat that is still acclaimed by health authorities around the world.
In recognition of both cross-border and international travel threats, federal aviation authority (@faan_official), in collaboration with Federal Ministry of Health (@fmohnigeria) officials, have dusted up the magical process that worked in 2014 and the equipment used and have begun to check local and international air travelers in the country. As the preventive system is reactivated, FAAN has issued an advisory to air travelers to cooperate with officials if anyone is asked to step aside for a check at the airports.
Chinese New Year
An article in Wikipedia puts the Chinese population in Nigeria at about 20,000 while former Senate President, David Mark, estimates that over 10,000 Nigerians live in China, with a majority in the Guangzhou Province. It is estimated that thousands of Chinese nationals may have left Nigeria – as is their custom – to attend China’s biggest annual celebration which is called the Chinese New Year (CNY). The festival, which celebrates the beginning of the New Year in traditional Chinese Calendar, is observed between New Year’s Eve to the 15th of January, although the first day of the Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears later in the month (January 25 in 2020). The CNY in 2020 has coincided with the outbreak of coronavirus, thus catching up with millions of Chinese who travelled to their native country for the celebrations.
It is left for immigration authorities (@nigimmigration), working with the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria (@china_emb_ng) to identify and isolate returnee Chinese nationals who travelled for the holidays, especially those that lived or passed through Wuhan on their way back, for specific checks to ensure that no one is bringing in the virus.
What you can do
Citizens should tweet at authorities identified here to ask questions, encourage those who recently returned from China without reporting to the authorities to do so, and widely share the many information bulletins and flyers being published by WHO on how to prevent the virus from coming into Nigeria.
Although the World Health Organization in Nigeria has assured that no index case has been reported in Africa as at xxx, it is important that responsible authorities identified above are made constantly aware of their job to keep the dreaded disease out of Nigeria.
Citizens may therefore (a) tweet at these authorities to ask questions about what they are doing, (b) report cases of individuals who have returned from Wuhan without reporting to the authorities, and (c) widely share the many information bulletins and flyers being published by WHO and other responsible authorities that are collaborating on the dangerous health situation.